Stella knew that by going back into the compound, even with the goal of avoiding contact with the Humanity First militia members to rescue her coworkers, she was risking her career. She hoped that Strike could get out and find help soon. There was backup a good distance from the compound, and Stella had no doubt that although this operation was being done out of public view as much as possible, the media would be alerted, either by leaks from law enforcement, or by the Humanity First activists themselves.
She had to get in and out as quickly as possible, and hope that either Miriam had recovered enough to heal everyone, or that Monique wasn’t so badly injured that Stella couldn’t get her out of there without killing her.
Stella kept herself as light as possible, bonding her body with aluminum and silver. A trick that had an interesting side benefit. Silver was the most efficient conductor of electricity, and when her nervous system and muscles were bonded to that metal Stella’s speed and reflexes were several times faster than normal. Aluminum was light and relatively non-conductive, and would hopefully keep her safe from the anti-super weapon.
Stella made her way back to the site of her fight, but unfortunately, the militia members had beaten her to it. All four of them had more of the strange weapons, but two of them stood out among the rest. One had a suit of armor that let him lift up the debris that Stella had hidden Gerald, Miriam, and Monique under, and the other was clearly the leader of the group. He looked clean and well educated, with a sharp look that reminded Stella of stereotypes of preachers and cult leaders.
He was pointing a handgun directly at Miriam’s head.
“Been expecting you,” he said. “Or someone like you. You’re going to stop using that satanic power and surrender, or I’m going to kill your friends. We don’t need to kill them, at least not yet. You can buy yourself and these others some time at least, before Janey fixes the Sword. Who knows? Maybe your masters in DC can save you before we purge your kind from this land. You don’t have a costume, so they claim you can’t attack us if we don’t attack you. Put that silly looking gun down, gently, and make yourself as human as your kind ever can be.”
Stella tried to weigh her options, but one look at the group of men in front of her left her with no options. They might kill everyone even if Stella did accede to their demands, but her coworker’s deaths was a certainty if she didn’t.
As soon as Stella changed back to her unaugmented form, one of the militia members came forward holding a set of restraints.
“You hold still for Jeb while he puts those on,” the militia leader said. “And you have my word that we won’t harm you or your friends. We’ll even put them on a truck instead of dragging them to where we’re going.
“I know your kind have no faith in God, but some of you pretend. Tell me, have you at least read the Bible? Or does it’s touch burn your skin?”
“You have GOT to be kidding,” Stella said mockingly. “I was raised Methodist, and I know my Bible.”
The Humanity First militia members all gave Stella contemptuous looks, but the preacher carried on. Almost acknowledging a point in Stella’s favor. It was more disconcerting than the outright rejection and contempt of the others.
“All paths can eventually lead to the top of the mountain,” said the preacher. “At least for those that have the ability to walk in God’s light. I am sorry for your loss, really I am. By an accident of birth you are, through no fault of your own, excluded from the Kingdom of Heaven. It broke my heart when Janey started tinkering with gadgets when she was barely ten years old. We tried to scourge it from her, but it just got worse, and then she started making things for the cause. She saw her own corruption, and that God had a plan, because even the Devil has a place in that plan.”
“Ephesians Six,” the preacher continued. “Put on all the armor that God gives, so you can defend yourself against the devil’s tricks. We are not fighting against humans. We are fighting against forces and authorities, and against rulers of darkness and powers in the spiritual world. So put on all the armor that God gives. Then when that evil day comes, you will be able to defend yourself. And when the battle is over, you will still be standing firm.
“We’ve been collecting all the cursed children from all our families from across this great nation, and with their help, we’ve forged a weapon that can purify this world at last. The cost has been great, and they were so few we soon ran out. We had to attract attention, so we tracked down some supers. Funny ones in suits who we knew served the devil. We built the Sword out in the open, because we knew it would attract attention.”
Stella was horrified almost beyond speaking. “You murdered children to test weapons?”
One of the men sucker punched Stella in the gut, and she fell to the ground gasping in pain. As Stella fought to breath the man raged at her. “My boy Clark was one of those hellspawn. He burned us all with his fires. Fires he couldn’t even control. His last words on this Earth were to thank us for purging him of his flames. He was taken! Taken by your kind!”
The preacher caught the man by the arm and pulled him away. “Easy there. She can’t serve her purpose if we kill her. It’ll all work according to the plan. Have faith. Get her companions into restraints, put them on a truck, and get them to the lab alive and intact.”
“Yessir,” said the man, and rushed off to do the preacher’s bidding.